“Portrait of the Artist,” 1878, 24 x 18
My name is Mary and Mary is my museum. Paintings are brushstroke upon brushstroke. With a pencil I lift each brushstroke and make lines. Finally. What I leave behind: my body, a portrait.
Old and small: that is how my body left me. I spent such a long time dreaming. Visits from people I knew well and loved and from people I didn’t know I loved. Simone, in a wizard’s hat. Brown cloak with yellow felt stars glued along the hem. Though I spoke with you only once, twice, Simone—I love you. The incredible eyes of Joseph, yellow, one red—the color shifting from one to the other. Joseph, your eyes. My portrait: a white dress, a hat piled with flowers, my body posed to look out-of-pose. I was humble enough not to look up, out, beyond the scrim of brushstrokes. The artist could only have been Mary, myself; those aren’t my brushstrokes anymore. An apartment much larger than the apartment I lived in for all those years, ten, twenty. My grandfather dying. I stood by his bed and I thought then, I’ll be old and dying so soon. To be young as I still was when I stood by my grandfather, when I posed for my portrait. I cannot be young, anymore. My sister, Lydia, seven months pregnant with her first child, a window behind her, wind lifting tree branches up, then rain danced against the side of the house for just under a half hour.
I drift beyond my heart, on out of dream into space. I see what I think must be other galaxies but is our galaxy, this galaxy. At the ends of space are mirrors; what once we thought were other galaxies is only this galaxy, circling at the head of a staircase, looking down to a door kept locked. Simone, you step through that door—magic—and you climb the stairs. You don’t look up, the peak of your wizard’s hat a point, a moon, a star. Where I’ve kept Simone’s face is mysterious she’d been forgotten during my life. I am behind you, Joseph, days before I met you. He acts as he did before he knew me (but he believed I existed, without evidence; his joy when his belief was confirmed upon our meeting transformed into love). I see Joseph, my husband, before he was my husband, as a high school student. He sat behind Anna, whom he had a terrible crush on during his senior year; I feel his crush—Anna, so lovely. Joseph, a little boy, sitting on the ground, dust in his hair. A gift, a Heaven, to see things from my life that I never saw. In space, the other galaxies are glass and light. From darkness: like a glint of a deer’s eye on a dark road I see God in the distance.